Bullying and Autism

Greetings Earthlings 🙂

Bullying- neurotypical and neurodiverse alike, we’ve  all been there at some point, but did you know that autistic people are bullied nearly five times as often as their neurotypical peers?

Studies have estimated that as many as 46% of people with autism have been bullied at some point in their life versus 10% of the general population.

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Our issues with social awkwardness and interpretation, hypersensitivity, literal thinking, poor motor skills and trusting nature can make autists quite vulnerable to bullies. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we are being targeting and so the bullying goes unreported.

Navigating school as an un-diagnosed teenager was particularly challenging. My literal thinking meant that I was often unaware that I was being made fun of, simple things said in attempts to fit in were turned into taunts, my expressions of individualism were ridiculed- and I just couldn’t understand why.

When I finally started to realize what was going on, it was devastating. I felt like such a fool that I shoved my emotions down and tried to pretend that I was fine.

Buuuuuttttt there’s only so long you can continue to ignore a full septic tank for before chaos erupts…

Once your peers have seen you have a meltdown, some people will do anything to trigger another one.

So I trudged along quietly everyday blaming myself for the teasing I endured:

Why was I so naiive?

Why did I say that?

Why did I lose it? 

Why can’t I be normal?

I sat back and allowed the storm clouds to gather overhead every time I reached the school doors.

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It wasn’t until I burned out and hit breaking point that I realized I had to find a better way through, began to talk and learned, not just to cope, but to thrive 🙂

So what advice would I give to someone on the spectrum who find themselves in the midst of a bullying situation?

Well, as the bullying game has intensified with the spread of social media since my schooldays (rural Ireland had quite limited access to high speed internet in the noughties), this is a tough one to advise, but here are some of my top tips:

  • Ignore the bullies– An obvious one that’s easier said than done, I know (I pretended to ignore for years- it can take quite a bit of practice to truly let words glide off your back), but when you react or meltdown- that’s what fuels them. My reactions made bullies push my buttons all the harder. If you feel a meltdown coming on, take a moment to go somewhere quiet, get some fresh air and take a deep breath.  Bathroom stalls were a personal favourite of mine to give me some time to regroup (unless someone had been smoking in there… this added further sensory fuel to the fire! 😛 )
  • Find an outlet for your emotions- We autists experience and process our emotions in very different ways. If you shove things down, the end result will not be pleasant. So run, dance, go on a four hour killing spree on your PlayStation (something that I wouldn’t know anything about… 😛 )- do whatever works for you to deal with your frustrations. I know it’s hard, but finding an outlet will help to quell the dragon inside.
  • Try to think before you act/speak– Again this is quite challenging when you don’t have a filter or struggle with impulsivity, but sometimes what may seem like the most simple of sentiments to you can be twisted and misconstrued by bullies. An innocent comment I once passed about the family dog led to years of jeering and implied bestiality…! I still put my foot in it every now and again, but I’ve gradually learned to pause more to assess if my comments will sink or float.
  • Be careful what you post on social media- The online world can be a dangerous, unregulated one. We live so much of our lives online we forget that our peers are always watching. As with your thoughts, take a moment to think through your posts. Something as simple as a picture or throwaway comment could land you in bother both on and offline (a simple lack of an appropriate emoji once caused a rift with a friend). Remember- it’s also perfectly ok to abstain or take some time away from social media. It may seem like social suicide, but we all need time away from our screens- people disable their accounts every day for lots of reasons so don’t worry about what they’ll think at school. Your sanity is far more important 🙂
  • Talk to someone– If you’re being targeted, tell a teacher, confide in a friend or talk to your parents so something can be done. But bear in mind, they can’t always  intervene. Teasing is a natural part of life as much as it may hurt (something that the autistic mind really struggles to comprehend), and not everything can be prevented. What may seem a devastating comment to your mind may mean nothing to an outsider. Intervention aside, by simply talking to someone about how you’re feeling, this will make the load so much easier to bear. Don’t let the quicksand claim you- ask for help!bitmoji2141702869

At the end of it all, just remember what my Biology teacher once taught me- “Whoever said that your school days are the best days of your life lied- college days are the best days of your life!”

So don’t get disheartened Earthlings! It may be hard to see it through the swirling fog in the crystal ball, but life does get so much better (…once you get past the bills, taxes and work-day traffic jams! 😛 😉 ).

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Atypical

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

So today I’m going to place Netflix’s latest original offering ‘Atypical‘ under the microscope.

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The series has been widely discussed within the autistic community this week, but in case you haven’t heard about it- ‘Atypical‘ is a coming of age series which follows Sam, an eighteen year old boy with high functioning autism as he sets out to find a girlfriend.

You can watch a trailer for the series here:

The series has received mainly positive reviews from critics (Forbes claim it to be the greatest series Netflix has ever made- uh, ‘Daredevil‘ anyone? 😛 ), but some have critiqued the stereotypical nature of the character of Sam.

So what did I make of it?

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Show creator Robia Rashid, who herself has experience of autism in her personal life, conducted a lot of background research and hired autism consultant Michelle Dean to review all scripts and cuts- and in my opinion, it shows!

I found ‘Atypical’ to be a quite enjoyable and endearing series. I particularly enjoyed the coming of age angle, taking us away from the typical child/awkward adult portrayals that we see all too often on screen. It’s refreshing to see autism from the perspective of a teenager on the spectrum, a particularly turbulent time in the life of a change resistant autist (even more turbulent if navigated undiagnosed as in my case).

And guess what- the creators didn’t resort to savant stereotypes! 😀

Granted, Sam is highly intelligent with an excellent memory, but these traits are subtly infused within the fabric of his personality. I particularly found the acting from lead Keir Gilchrist, who based his portrayal on his experiences with autistic friends, to be quite excellent, especially for an actor of his age.

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However, as excellent an actor as Gilchrist may be, many have criticized the show for casting a neurotypical actor in the main role. On the other hand, show creators did feature actor Anthony Jacques (seen on the right below), who is himself autistic. Alas, while described as a “supporting” character in many reviews of the show, he briefly appears in only two episodes.

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Nevertheless Jacques’ character of Christopher forms a refreshing addition to the cast with his quirky enthusiasm, representing a higher functioning bracket of the spectrum.

Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about the show was how it focused not just on how autism impacts Sam’s life, but it also gave equal screen time to the impacts of autism within his wider social circle. We see the toll that autism has placed on Sam’s parents and their marriage, the responsibility that Sam’s younger sister burdens herself with and the reactions of friends and others in the community towards Sam.

As much as I personally enjoyed the show however, there were times where Netflix veered towards the stereotypical. For example, I felt that Sam was a little too literal in his thinking/responses:

Zahid (Sam’s friend): “I’m taking you to Poon-city!”

Sam: “That’s not a real place”

We have our moments yes, but not everything is quite that literal.

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I also found issue with how Sam always speaks in measured monotones- a common autistic stereotype. Whilst, yes, this is characteristic of some within the autistic community, it is not for all. My tone of voice for example can be anywhere from high pitched to a deep drawl depending on the mood I’m in (or an opportunistic head cold 😉 ). This stereotype crops up time and time again in on screen portrayals and it is really starting to bug me! 😛

Once again as I watched this show, I felt as though I were seeing yet another carbon copy autistic person dance across my screen. The show talks about neurodiversity, but the character of Sam is, to my eye, far from diverse.

Perhaps Netflix would do well to feature an autistic female lead if the show is renewed for a second season.

All in all, ‘Atypical‘ is a mostly enjoyable affair so check it out if you have a spare 4-5 hours for a weekend binge watch 🙂

Aoife

Autism on Screen: Forrest Gump

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today we’re going to have a look at the portrayal of autism in the multi-award winning 1994 classic ‘Forrest Gump‘.

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I know, it’s not a film that specifically mentions autism, but it’s on a list of films featuring autism by the Autism Research Institute so we’ll have a look anyway! 🙂

In actual fact, ‘Forrest Gump‘ was based on a book of the same name by Winston Groom (1986) in which the title character is an autistic savant with great mathematical ability! I’ll have a read of this at some stage and discuss it in the future 🙂

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So what’s ‘Forrest Gump‘ about?

In short, the film details the life and adventures of one Forrest Gump native of Greenbow, Alabama. Slow witted, but kind hearted, Forrest find’s himself in the midst of some of the most pivotal events in modern American history, showing everyone that mental disability does not preclude you from living a most extraordinary life.

For anyone who has yet to see the film- here’s a little trailer:

So how does ‘Forrest Gump‘ fare in it’s portrayal of autism?

Whilst ‘Forrest Gump‘ may not intentionally portray autism as in the book, nevertheless Forrest displays many autistic characteristics consistent with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. He does not always display socially appropriate behavior, as demonstrated by the memorable scene in the White House where he tells JFK that he has to pee! Forrest doesn’t always make eye contact, has some specialist interests (such as Jenny and Ping Pong) and can often ramble on, speaking in monotones as is often associated with AS. Forrest also demonstrates that he is a literal thinker in the film, often leading to some of the more humorous moments.

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Interestingly, the film depicts Forrest in a more realistic light than in the book. Whilst he is described in both as having a low IQ in the 70’s, Forest is not portrayed as a stereotyped mathematical savant in the film.

FINALLY! A bit of realism! 😛 😉

Although entirely fictional, this film delivers the audience an encouraging message of hope. In spite of his mental limitations, Forrest goes on to lead not just a “normal”, but an extraordinary life.

Forrest’s tale truly shows us how, as I’ve often remarked in this blog, you should never allow autism to hold you back. An autism diagnosis can be a challenge yes, but it does not mean that you can’t live a “normal”, happy and fulfilling life 🙂

To quote Sally Field in this film:

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

 

Autism on Screen- Rain Man

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

I’m going to change things up a little today with a new series examining the portrayal of autism on screen.

Film scholars have remarked that the portrayal of autism on film is generally inaccurate and highly stereotyped, so I’ve decided to take a closer look at things from a personal and scientific perspective 🙂

So let’s start at the very beginning with perhaps the most famous portrayal of autism in cinema- 1988’s ‘Rain Man‘.

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For those of you who have not seen the film, ‘Rain Man’ focuses on the relationship between brothers Charlie and Raymond ‘Rain Man‘ Babbitt as they embark on a cross country road trip to Los Angeles (Raymond refuses to fly unless it’s with Qantas- the safest airline in the world!). Charlie grew up without any knowledge of Raymond, only discovering his existence upon learning that his father’s multi-million dollar fortune had been bequeathed to the mental institution in which he resides. And so Charlie sets out to be Raymond’s carer in order to access the fortune, but *SPOILER ALERT*- ultimately has a change of heart. Classic Hollywood ending.

Here’s a trailer for anyone who’s thinking of watching it 🙂

‘Rain Man’ is often considered to be the main reference point for autism on film, as it prompted the breakthrough of autism into the wider conscious of the public. Prior to this, characters displayed autistic like traits in film, but autism itself was not discussed- likely due to the fact that the diagnostic criteria for autism was only just emerging in the late 1980’s. The term ‘Rain Man‘ has also become synonymous with autism and other mental disabilities in popular culture, as seen in this example from the film ‘Miss Congeniality‘ (2000):

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As a “female rain man”, I find this highly insulting, so try not to brand autistic people using the term 😛

Winner of  4 Oscar’s, ‘Rain Man’ has been highly critically acclaimed- but does the film match up to the reality?

Rain Man‘ is generally thought to be an accurate portrayal of the autistic condition in scholarly papers. Indeed, there are many areas in the film in which Raymond perfectly demonstrates some of the classical signs of autism- sensitivity to touch, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, specialist interests, coordination issues, deficits in social communication, autistic meltdowns etc.

Interestingly while I thought that I would not be able to relate to Raymond from previous viewings, I found that his literal thinking had me written all over it. There’s a scene in the film (which you can see in the trailer) where Raymond stops in the middle of the road on a pedestrian crossing after the light flashes “DON’T WALK”! I have a terrible habit of dawdling at pedestrian crossings. Oftentimes I can see that the road is clear, but still I’ll wait for the green man (although this may be related to getting clipped on the ankle by a car crossing the road in Dublin as a teenager! 😛 ). However, I’m not as bad as I used to be since learning to drive; hesitation gets you nowhere on a roundabout after all! 😉

The story where Raymond inadvertently burned Charlie in the bathtub as a child (which led him to be institutionalized), also brings back many memories from my childhood. There have been many cases where I have inadvertently harmed my siblings- why just yesterday I threw a foam roller at my sister in an attempt to help her stretch out her legs, only for it to whack her in the throat…oops!

Bad Aoife! 😛

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But my intentions were good!!

Acting without thinking is something that I tend to do an awful lot of (probably why I overthink and don’t act when it comes to love 😛 ). My mother had to keep a really close eye on me growing up after she found me attempting to push hair-clips down my sisters throat…I have no real answer for why I did that, but based on similar experiences, I’d say scientific curiosity probably had a role to play! 😛 😉 We’ll explore curiosity and impulsivity a little bit more in the coming weeks.

On the other hand however, this film has largely perpetuated the stereotype that autists typically have superb memories and savant skills. As I’ve stated previously, these traits are rare, and the vast majority of autists do not possess them. The same goes for card counting- a family friend actually inferred that I should be able to do it once! 😛

Here’s a fun article I found about a man who lost $17,000 after trying to use his autistic friend to count cards!

http://www.betootaadvocate.com/uncategorized/i-took-my-autistic-friend-to-the-casino-and-lost-17-000-in-ten-minutes/

In addition to this, Raymond is also described as ‘high functioning’ in the film, BUT Raymond is incapable of living independently. Whilst the definition of what constitutes high functioning autism varies, for many, Raymond does not fit the high functioning category and therefore does not come across as a true reflection of autism.

One of the biggest issues here I believe, is the fact that the character of Raymond is based on Kim Peek- a “megasavant” who did not in fact have autism, but FG syndrome (a rare genetic syndrome characterized by intellectual disabilities, low muscle tone and an abnormally large head).

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Bit hard to write a film about autism when the inspiration doesn’t actually have autism if you ask me! 😛

On top of this, Dustin Hoffman famously prepared for the role by observing autistic adults for months in psychiatric institutions. However, Hoffman by his own admission describes Raymond’s character as an unrealistic grouped composite of high functioning autists he encountered during his research.

With this in mind, don’t believe everything you see in the movies folks! 😉

When I first got my diagnosis, this film naturally came to mind, however, I really struggled to relate what was presented on screen to my reality. Indeed, ‘Rain Man‘ reflects some of the realities of autism, but not all. ‘Rain Man‘ is an excellent film with superb acting from Dustin Hoffman, but it comes from a time before the ‘spectrum‘ when knowledge of autism was limited.

So when it comes to films about autism remember- autism is a spectrum; one size does not fit all 🙂

Aoife

 

 

 

 

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